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How will autonomic computing affect outsourcing?

Dec 14, 20054 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsIBM

* When Moore's Law, systems management and outsourcing collide

IT management has matured and evolved significantly since the computer became a business tool, but as fast as it has matured, the capacity and capabilities of the underlying systems has matured faster. There has been no Moore’s Law for systems management. 

OK, for those who may be unfamiliar with the concept, Moore’s Law is the observation made in 1965 by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since the integrated circuit was invented. Moore’s Law has become a rule of thumb in the computer industry regarding the growth of computing power over time. It states that the growth of computing power follows an empirical exponential law. Moore originally proposed a 12-month doubling and, later, a 24-month period. Due to the mathematical nature of doubling, this implies that within 30 to 50 years computers will become more intelligent than human beings. See the online encyclopedia Wikipedia for a very interesting discussion of Moore’s Law.

So even though IT management tools have matured, the complexity of the systems being managed has outpaced their maturation. Most companies spend more on managing systems than they do on developing and deploying new applications. In the classic “cobbler’s children have no shoes” scenario, IT has been used to automate business processes while using labor-intensive and manual processes to care for the IT infrastructure. Maturing management tools have automated some of these labor-intensive management processes, but IT management can still be an unwieldy task. This is one of the reasons why outsourcing is so popular.

Outsourcing provides customers with the scale and professionalism of a large service provider that the customer may not have. Outsourcing and offshoring can also make cheaper labor available for what can often times be a labor-intensive process. Whatever the reasons, outsourcing puts a complex problem into the hands of specialists. But are shuttling the problem off to someone else, or building sophisticated in-house management processes using traditional tools, the long-term answers to IT management? Well, the folks on IBM’s Autonomic Computing team will answer “no” to that question. They will tell you that the answer is not to add more people or even to add more traditional management tools, but rather to truly harness the power of the IT systems to manage themselves.

The name “autonomic” is derived from the body’s autonomic nervous system, which controls activities, such as heartbeat, blood pressure and breathing, so the body can self-regulate. “Autonomic Computing” is IBM’s term for a set of products, tools and services that add self-managing capabilities to IT systems.  Its goal is to shift the burden of support tasks such as configuration, maintenance and fault management from people to technology. Autonomic systems are designed to take over the manually intensive IT operations tasks that IT professionals choose to delegate, many of which are routine and repetitive.

So is autonomic computing some far-fetched science fiction view of the future of IT management? No, there are real capabilities built into many products from many vendors available and in use today. There are standards being developed so components from different vendors in complex systems can be managed as part of the autonomic computing environment. While the end game may be years away, many products already contain autonomic features, and it is time to begin to view autonomic capabilities as a reality. To learn more about autonomic computing, register to receive a copy of the recent EMA paper, “Practical Autonomic Computing: Roadmap to Self Managing Technology” at the EMA Web site or view the recording of a recent Webinar featuring EMA founder Rick Sturm here.

With the advent of autonomic computing, will self-healing and self-managing systems eliminate the need to outsource IT management? I think not. There are still significant infrastructure, expertise and deployment factors that will keep outsourcing an important option for many businesses. This does not mean that if you outsource your IT management you should ignore autonomic computing or that you will not be impacted by it. As you develop or renew IT management outsourcing relationships, you should understand how each provider plans to incorporate and use these emerging technologies. 

Systems managed with autonomic components will experience lower costs, better reliability and higher availability. For customers of outsourced IT management, autonomic computing should enable more stringent service-level agreements with lower costs.  Autonomic computing should become a differentiator for outsource providers. The time is coming when the driving forces behind Moore’s Law will begin to positively affect the cost and complexity of IT management.